Crowning Glory Conundrums

We wish it weren’t, but hair is everything!

By Madhumita Gupta Published Feb 6, 2024 19:06:12 IST
Crowning Glory Conundrums illustration By Siddhant jumde

Beauty parlours always make me nervous. No matter how warm their smiles or gentle the lilting string music, the very thought of placing the burden of one’s appearance in the hands of a stranger sends a chill up my spine.

Most days, I am happy to look the other way while crossing a salon. But then, along comes a friend with poreless skin and bouncy, stylish hair. Or worse, a wedding invite lands in the mail. The gauntlet has been thrown down. 

Daydreams are now populated with montages of beautiful women radiating with the glow of Aphrodite, not a strand out of place. Reflective surfaces, no longer my friend, chide me at every turn. My own efforts having spectacularly failed, I soon find myself walking with steps heavy with trepidation towards the mirrored lair of MUA’s (make-up artists) and follicular engineers.

Inside, brisk young people in monogrammed coats move around purposefully. I’m reminded of a spiffy operation theatre. Before I can turn back, I’m cornered by someone who steers me towards a chair in front of a three-way mirror. It does not help that the chair resembles the one at a dentist’s. My only consolation is that the steerer is tiny. If worse comes to worst, I can push Tiny away and escape.

“Good morning, ma’am!” she chirps brightly, “What can I do for you today?” She cocks her head and I think I can see a faint shadow pass through her eyes. Or is that the mirror?

“Uhm … a haircut and maybe colour?” I hazard.

“Hmmm!” she murmurs as my scrunchie is yanked away. More “hmm, hmms!” follow. It’s almost like waiting for your school board results all over again.

“I’ll see what I can do,” she sighs. “I would suggest a feather-cut, that’ll add some body to er …” she pauses “er … your hair.”

My insecurities generously fill in all kinds of words into the blanks left in that strategic pause.

“Not a U-cut?” I mumble. That’s the only haircut I am deeply familiar with. Wouldn’t a feather-cut make my existing bird’s-nest hair worse? The question is throttled in my throat as a swishy straitjacket is draped over me and I am firmly instructed to take off my glasses. The world goes instantly blurry so I close my eyes in silent prayer.

I hear crisp clicks and feel chunks of hair falling around me in an accelerated autumn of my tresses.

“So, where are you from?” I venture, more to take my mind off what’s happening on my head than the need for any real conversation. Instead of a response, however, a dam explodes. Without missing a snip, Tiny launches into a long litany about how she landed in Alwar, all accompanied by rolling eyes and waving arms. 

Focus, focus, I pray as the sharp instrument in her gesticulating hands become emotionally charged.

“Erm …,” I raise my voice “should we check now? Can you hand me the mirror?”

“Eh?” Tiny stops, but only after another few minutes of snipping. “Oh, okay. Here,” she says, handing me a mirror and my glasses. One look and my worst fears prove true.

She notices my disconsolate face and says, “Don’t worry, one blow dry will make it look really nice.” She becomes brisk again.

“Colour?” I settle for a safe brown, the darkest one—enough risks for one day.

After another hour under her ministrations, the straitjacket is removed and I’m set free to assess the results. A drowned cat with spectacles looks back at me from three inescapable angles.

“Do you love it?” Tiny asks. I choke back a guttural sound, hand over an obscene sum of money and start the countdown to how many days it will take for my hair to return to the familiar flatlands it once hailed from.

As I make my way home, I devise a template response to comments likely coming my way: “It’s a new hairstyle: it’s called ‘I Tried’.” If that doesn’t work, I have a pretty cap.

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